But though the world scouts at us whale hunters, yet does it unwittingly pay us a profound homage; yea, an all-abounding adoration! for almost all the tapers, lamps, and candles that burn round the globe, burn, as before so many shrines, to our glory!
I am a mother, and my mother is my mother. This June, driving near her home in New York, she had a heart attack, and my father drove her to the hospital. In California, where I live, my family and I had just arrived at the airport. We were flying to New York to drop our older son at his summer program. So when we got the call from my younger sister that my mother was having a heart attack, all that happened was that everything became clearer than it was before. All we had to do was get onto the plane we were planning to board, and go to see her.
By the time our flight, delayed, took off, I knew that my mother had had a stent inserted, and that she was stable and doing well. It was an extraordinarily fine day, clear and cloudless almost to the center of the country. I watched the U.S. pass under us and felt things I hadn’t known I would feel, even though I think about my mother, and myself, all the time. It turned out I didn’t think about her deeply enough. I didn’t think about her with any accuracy. I didn’t normally see what I saw as we passed over thousands and thousands of people, and miles, which is that from my point of view, my mother is equal to all those people and all those miles. She has been that powerful.
And then, at the same time, she is weak. I hadn’t thought about her body as a mechanism I had a relation to since I was a toddler, when I needed her to take care of me. I remembered, or anyway I remember now, the fact of her heart, as I knew it then. It beat hard within her—almost excessively, I found. When I came to my parents’ bed one morning, and Mom, needing more sleep, lifted me onto her chest, that heart sounded in my ear, and filled her lungs with air so that her chest rose and fell, rose and fell, and instead of feeling comforted to lie on top of her I felt jostled. I lay awake on her, trying to match my breathing to hers, wondering why I couldn’t get comfortable. After a little while I couldn’t stand it anymore, and had to go. I don’t think that I ever went back.
Is telling someone about a beautiful flight on an airplane like telling someone about your dream? When we were almost in New York the plane dropped down over Long Island, the cloud cover dispersed into strips and rags of fog, and the watery marshes below us were so still that they could have been fifteen, rather than a thousand feet below us. In the hospital in Westchester where we saw my mother the next day—O Westchester, green and lush with spring rain and summer sun, probably the only landscape I will ever really love—she was sitting up in a chair, nauseated, unable to eat or drink. My sisters and I, my children, my husband, my father, some cousins—eight or nine of us spread out around her room with the Sunday paper and salads and snacks from the Au Bon Pain on the hospital’s first floor and had a very good time.
Finally the nurse cleared us out so she could check on my mother, and I saw my mother get out of her chair and climb back into the room’s high bed, where she rested on her back like a statue, arms at her side, nose presiding, under a light.
My children left, one of them for four weeks. The other I saw the next day.